February 16, 2024
It was great fun reading news stories on the Back to the Future anniversary, and which inventions actually happened. Sorry, but a Hover Board just isn’t going to answer my transportation needs. It must be almost 50 years since The Jetsons debuted with flying cars, and we are still stuck in terrestrial traffic for hours. No mention was made of Spacely Sprockets or Cogswell Cogs making parts for those flying cars, but I chuckle just thinking about two gear companies still being around in such a high-tech world. When I started in the trade, in 1971, people predicted hydraulics and electronics would make mechanical power transmission obsolete. Forty four years later, the gear business is very different — but still very necessary. The gears we can make today are much better, of course, and there have been big changes in how they are used. The shift to front-wheel drive cars cut hypoid gear product dramatically. Few cars or trucks use worm gears in the steering mechanisms. Commercial gearboxes have leveraged high-capacity, surface-hardened gears to become much smaller and longer lasting. Other than the occasional prototype or home-built experimental, there are no flying cars in regular use. Judging by the way people handle the expressways around Chicago, this is probably a good thing. It might take all the gear technology we have developed to get the fleet fuel economy numbers in the current regulations. The thought of seven- or eight-speed transmissions in passenger cars would once have seemed as far out as flying cars. No one in the 1970s would have predicted all those gears having ground flanks either. Hopefully, somewhere in the world, little boys and little girls are still watching The Jetsons and dreaming of a day when they can fly to work or school. I have no doubt that our industry will be ready to make the necessary gears when the kids’ design is ready for prototyping.